Thursday, December 23, 2010

Parashat Shmot (Exodus) and the meaning of Names


This Shabbat we start reading “Sefer Shmot – Book of Exodus". I don’t know why “Shmot” in other languages is called “Exodus”. In the original Hebrew version, “Shmot” means “Names”. 

This upcoming Shabbat, we are reading the first Parasha from “Sefer Shmot” which is also called “Shmot”. Referring to the NAMES of those Israelites who came with Yaakov down to Egypt. The seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson wrote in his “Likutei Sichot”: 

Since the entire book is called “Shmot”, we are forced to conclude that, aside from echoing its first verse “VeAleh shmot bnei Yisrael …”, the name communicates the general theme of the book. 

See Midrash Tadasheh, sec. 20, which states: There is wisdom, understanding, and knowledge invested in all the holy books why they were written, and the names by which they were called. See also TANYA, Sha’ar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 1, which states that the name of an entity communicates its life force.

Seventy souls had come down to Egypt. But why is G – d in Shmot remembering Yaakov and his sons coming down to Egypt ? Rashi here says that G – d is counting His people when they are alive and even after their death. After their death in order to make known how precious they are to Him. The children of Israel are counted by name because they are compared to the stars. 

In fact, referring to a person by his name has a special meaning in Judaism. In Hebrew, names have a meaning and when talking to a person, you should always refer to her or him by using their name. We also learn this from G – d Himself when he spoke to Avraham or Moshe. 

The Chatam Sofer wrote his his Torah commentary that already Adam HaRishon had the G – dgiven task to name all the animals in Gan Eden. Likewise, the spiritual characteristics of future generations of Jews are all rooted in the twelve sons of Yaakov. 

Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson quoted the Midrash where it states that the Torah mentions the names of the Jewish people to allude to the fact that throughout the 210 years they lived in Egypt, they did not change their names. They had Jewish names when they first settled in Egypt and they still carried Jewish names when they left. They did not change their names to fit the Egyptian culture. 

The Midrash emphasizes that G – d called the Jews by name to underscore their importance. For whenever Jews enter exile, there is a possibility that they will be nullified, absorbed into the host culture. By counting them and calling them by name, G – d insures that this will not take place.

The Jews are described using stars as an analogy, and did not change their names because they are a nation of righteous men (see Yeshayahu 60:21) who resemble their Creator. As a matter of fact, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson brings a very powerful commentary on the meaning of Jewish names:

Understanding the meaning of a Name

The divine light which descends to bring the world into being can be considered as G – d’s name. To clarify the analogy: A name is merely a glimmer of the entity which it identifies. For example, there is a saying “The name of the king is called upon them”, i.e., it is only the name, and not the essence of the king, by which his country is known.
A name does not relate to a person’s essence. It merely serves as a medium through which one person can establish a relationship with another. Similarly, with regard to G – d, His name relates to the creation – a realm apart from Himself. For Himself, He has no need of a name; He is holy and separate. At His level, created beings have no commonalty with Him.

Similar concepts apply with regard to the Jewish people. Jewish souls share a bond with G – d’s essence, for they are “an actual part of G – d”. Therefore other created beings cannot fully appreciate a Jewish soul.

 The name of a soul can elevate its essence.

Just as only G – d’s name, a glimmer of His essence, is enclothed in this world, so too, it is a glimmer of a Jew’s soul which is enclothed in his body. For the body is not able to contain the soul in its entirety. The soul thus remains perfect despite the fact that the body in which it is enclothed has descended into exile.

The reason that the glimmer, the name, of a soul can elevate its essence is because the name invokes the essence. Thus when we call a person by name, he responds with his entire essence. And as is well – known, when a person is unconscious, one of the ways to awaken him is to whisper his Jewish name in his ear. This will arouse the essence of his soul and draw down energy to reanimate the body. 

The freeing of the powers of the G -dly soul from exile is the spiritual counterpart of the exodus from Egypt. And this in return is the catalyst which brings the actual redemption.

Photos: Miriam Woelke

No comments:

Post a Comment